Starting Tomorrow: Escalation in Collective Punishment of Gaza – Further Electricity Cuts Planned

Human Rights Groups: "Israel is Violating the Rights of Civilians in Gaza and Depriving them of Basic Needs – in Violation of International Law."

Wed., February 6, 2008 –  Beginning tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 7), Israel will reduce supplies of electricity it sells to Gaza, as part of punitive measures taken against Gaza’s civilian population, with the approval of Israel’s Supreme Court. The cutbacks to electricity were permitted after Israel’s Supreme Court last week rejected a petition by ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations challenging Israel’s planned reductions to the supplies of electricity and fuel it allows Gaza residents to purchase. The rights groups claimed that the cuts violate international law, because they deliberately harm civilians and deprive them of the energy needed to run vital services. Virtually all of the Gaza Strip’s energy is supplied by Israel, directly and indirectly.

According to the human rights organizations: "This new cut in electricity supplies will exacerbate the punitive measures directed against civilians in Gaza, in violation of international law. The fuel and electricity cuts already applied are disrupting the ability of Gaza Strip residents to receive medical care, access clean water, pump sewage, heat and light their homes, and lead normal lives – with no valid security rationale but rather to exert political pressure."

Regarding the court decision, the human rights groups noted: "The Israeli Supreme Court’s decision sets a dangerous precedent. The decision ignores the clear international law prohibition against deliberately targeting civilians – and fails to stop the military’s collective punitive measures." The human rights organizations expressed concern that the court decision indicates a trend on the part of the Israeli Supreme Court to uphold rather than curb human rights violations on the part of the State. "The court’s uncritical adoption of the State’s position that it owes only minimal obligations to Gaza residents violates the clear dictates of international law, including the law of occupation, and leaves civilians in Gaza vulnerable to the military’s restrictive measures," they said.

According to a plan submitted to the court, Israel’s military will reduce supply by 5% on three of ten lines supplying electricity to Gaza from Israel’s Electric Company. Tomorrow, the power supplied by the first line will be cut by 5%. The electricity supplied by the two other lines will be reduced by 5% each over the next two weeks. In total, Gaza will suffer a 1.5 megawatt reduction in electricity sold via the Israeli electric grid.

Even as they condemned tomorrow’s planned reduction in the electricity sold to Gaza by Israel, the human rights organizations emphasized that Israel has already cut Gaza’s electricity supply by 25 megawatts – by preventing Gaza’s power plant from purchasing sufficient quantities of industrial diesel to operate at capacity. Today, Gaza’s power plant is producing just 55 megawatts electricity, compared to the 80 megawatts it is capable of generating, if it were permitted to obtain more fuel.

The industrial diesel cuts have contributed to a 20% electricity deficit in the Gaza Strip, which has necessitated rolling blackouts that have disrupted the functioning of hospitals, sewage treatment plants, water pumps, and other vital services. Access to clean water has been disrupted for tens of thousands of residents, who cannot receive water without electricity. Gaza’s sewage treatment plant has at various points pumped millions of liters of untreated sewage into the sea, for lack of electricity to treat the sewage. Gaza residents are still experiencing power outages of 8 hours per day on average in most parts of the Gaza Strip. Cuts in petrol and regular diesel supplies have disrupted transportation throughout the Gaza Strip and caused shortages in the fuel needed to run back-up generators.

Significantly, the cutbacks in fuel and electricity supplies are being implemented in parallel to the closure of Gaza’s borders, which prevents the movement of goods and people and reinforces the isolation and hardships imposed on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

International law forbids punishing individuals for acts that they did not personally commit. It also forbids targeting civilians. Under international law, all states are obligated to actively facilitate the passage of humanitarian supplies to civilians.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement 
HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel 
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel 
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme 
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 
Al–Haq 
Mezan Center for Human Rights 
Association for Civil Rights in Israel